CARA, Adoption, Shishu Vihar and Unanswered Questions

We visited Shishu Vihar Hyderabad for giving the diaper packets. The process of finding the place where the diapers could be given, reaching out to Shishu Vihar, the actual visit led to a number of thoughts and questions. I searched the CARA website for answers and it led to even more questions. Even though the subject matter does not directly relate to O +ve and B +ve, I am writing down these unanswered questions in the blog – after all, it does relate to children, the future of our country, in the same manner as O +ve and B +ve.

Who are the children in the orphanages?

I google searched for orphanages in Hyderabad and the first search result was from Justdial. There are 235+ orphanages listed in Justdial. I called up more than 20 orphanages to enquire if they had children in the age group for which we had the diaper packs. All the answers were negative and a couple of them told that the government does not allow children below 6 years to be placed in private orphanages and that they could be found only in Shishu Vihar, the government orphanage.

The question is if none of these 235+ orphanages is allowed to keep children below 6 years, then from where are they getting the children above 6 years?

Shishu Vihar Hyderabad has 250 children in the age group of 1 to 6 years, roughly 50 children in the bracket of one year. Now, suddenly what happens that the number of orphans rises so high that there are 235 orphanages in the same city? That too, orphaned at the age greater than 6 years.

Who are these children?

The most plausible answer would be semi-orphaned, surrendered or abandoned children. The bigger question is why would this happen? What would be happening to their parents that the children are sent to the orphanages? What would be happening to these children who find themselves in orphanages suddenly? Does the society know that the number of orphaned children sky-rockets after 6 years?

Why are the children present in Shishu Vihar?

The CARA website has a statement “presently there are more parents in the waiting, but fewer children available for adoption. Therefore, it is difficult to ascertain the time period to adopt a child“. The statement sounds logical and does not require any explanation.

Though what does require an explanation is if there are fewer children available for adoption than the waiting parents, what are 250 children in the age group of 1-6 years doing in Shishu Vihar?

Surely, all these cannot be the cases of special needs children for whom it is difficult to find adoptive parents? And for sure, there would be adoptive parents who will be willing to adopt special needs children as well.

If there are more parents in the waiting, why is Shishu Vihar not empty?

Why is adoption reducing in India?

Below is the snap-shot from the CARA website for adoptions in the country since 2011.

Year In-country Adoption Inter-country Adoption
2010 5693 628
2011 (Jan’11 to March’12) 5964 629
2012-2013 (April’12 to March’13) 4694 308
2013-2014 (April’13 to March’14) 3924 430
2014-2015 ( April’14 to March’15) 3988 374
2015-2016 (April’15 to March’16) 3011 666
2016-2017 (April’16 to March’17) 3210 578
2017-2018 (April’17 to March’18) 3276 651

From the high of 5500+ adoptions, it has touched the lows of 3011 and settling to 3200 for the last 2 years. Whereas, the inter-country adoption has reached back the same numbers 7-8 years before.

Why are the adoptions reducing in the country? This is something that needs research and corrective action – behavioural/sociological/ adoption procedure related / any other matter.

Last 3 years, the adoptions have been below 4000, the entire country put together. Hyderabad has 235 orphanages. Shishu Vihar Hyderabad has 250 children in the age group of 1-6 years.

Nothing is adding up.

Is adoption the only way?

The adoption is the best way for the care and the rehabilitation of the orphan children in their best interest. Given that we have so many orphanages and the children in the Shishu Vihar itself, what do we do?

There has to be some way to assimilate these children with the society apart from the adoption. Are there that exists? What can they be?

The government support for the children in the orphanages

I had spoken to the state department of women and child development about giving material to the Shishu Vihar. The person spoke arrogantly that the government buys only first-hand stuff for the Shishu Vihar children and they do not accept any used material. This is fine.

Now, can the government make the same statement about the children in the 235 orphanages of Hyderabad? Is the government not liable for all the children apart from Shishu Vihar children?

Conclusion

A developed society has to be devoid of an institution called orphanage. A developed society knows how to take care of the children – including the orphans.

The current status of affairs of CARA, Shishu Bhavan and the number of 235 orphanages in a single city does not inspire confidence for the future generation of India.

What can be done? Who is going to do it?

Visit to Shishu Vihar Hyderabad

What would you associate with a building that houses 250 children in the age group of one to six years? Noise, lots of noise, I suppose. We were greeted with pin-drop silence. Welcome to Shishu Vihar Hyderabad.

We were left with two packets of diapers after B +ve and O +ve got potty trained. I got an idea that we could give it to the orphanage and our daughters could also spend some time there playing with the children.

I called up about 20 orphanages, none had children in the age group that we had diapers for. A couple of people told me that only Government houses the children below six years. The assumption being that the Government knows best to take care of infants and will not entrust this responsibility to anyone else. Once the child crosses six years, s/he is handed over to various orphanages, unless adopted by that age. I have no idea whether this theory told to me is true. However, it is a fact that I could not find a single orphanage in Hyderabad with children below six years.

Reaching out to Shishu Vihar Hyderabad

Seemingly, Shishu Vihar Hyderabad does not have a website or any other social networking paraphernalia. Justdial and Yellowpages show a couple of land-line numbers which are either not functional or nobody picks up.

I checked out the CARA website, assuming that Shishu Vihar Hyderabad should feature as the nodal agency for adoption in the state. But it was not to be.

I stumbled upon a private website that gives contact address of all Shishu Vihars across the country. On calling up the mobile number and saying that I wanted to give diapers, the person told me rudely that I need to take permission from the women and child welfare department.

I was told that diapers should be branded (which I suppose they always are), diapers should not have expired (I suppose nobody would ever want to give expired products to anyone leave aside children). I was told that I should have a satisfactory reason why I wanted to donate diapers. He got convinced that my children had no use for diapers, hence I wanted to give.

Finally, he told me that I can come down to the office, give a written request for diaper donation, take a stamped approval and then go to Shishu Vihar for giving the diapers.

Locating Shishu Vihar Hyderabad

I got the daughters and wife ready in a frenzy to reach the place. I told the girls that they might get to meet the children of their age. They kept asking questions along the way about who these children are and why they are not with their parents.

I realized that the Google Maps and the physical address on the website did not match. The gentleman had spoken to me rudely enough to not be disturbed again. I called up the landline number, repeated the process with a lady this time. She told me that they close the office at 5 pm sharp, I should take the approval before that, and guided me to the wrong place.

After taking a couple of incorrect turns, asking 3-4 people on the road, we finally reached the Shishu Vihar Hyderabad. The security guard and the staff at the building told us that we have directly reached the Shishu Vihar without taking the approval. The department office was in the front, but there is no compound wall and no security at the non-existent entrance, so we reached directly.

I again called up the land-line number, it was 5.05 pm. The lady told me that the office has closed, they have left and that we should come back the next day. This was getting exasperating. I told the lady that our place is 14-15 km away, we cannot keep coming back and that we had to give and not take. Finally, the lady got convinced. She told me that I can give the written request to the staff and hand over the diaper packets. The next day, she will make a back-dated approval letter.

The Shishu Vihar

After the verbal approval from the lady, the security guard escorted us to the building where the children in the age group of one to six years are housed. The first building, where we landed up, houses children below one year.

We walked past an under-repair building, a playground full of rubble and unwanted furniture and 5-6 newly constructed buildings, which were completely empty. Finally, we arrived at the Shishu Vihar building.

The security guard told that 250 children are housed in that building. The only thing we noticed was complete silence and lots of toys kept inside with a warning sign that photography is prohibited. Again the same procedure got repeated with the staff who refused to take the diaper packets without the approval letter. The security guard intervened and told the staff that the lady in the departmental office has verbally approved.

We were given the format of the request letter and blank A4 sheet of paper. After giving the formal request, we were asked to make the entry in the register. The staff refused to give us the acknowledgement for the receipt of diapers and asked us to come back after the office opens.

We enquired about the children and were told that nobody can see the children. On being asked why the children are not playing with the toys or why they are not in the outside playing area, we were told that the weather is a bit cold so they have not been taken out. We asked if we can visit Shishu Vihar to celebrate our daughters’ birthday, we were told that it is strictly not allowed and repeated that there is no access to Shishu Vihar children. We asked if these children go to school. The staff told that 4 teachers visit them and that these children are not allowed to leave the premises.

We did want to ask more about the children, who are they, what they do, the living conditions etc. We were told that we had completed the task of giving the diapers and we should leave.

Conclusion

The government has the responsibility to protect these vulnerable children but did not understand the need for the veil of complete secrecy. These children though come from society are devoid of parental care. What is the need to keep them completely segregated? Even though the society would want to integrate them, the government does not want them to be assimilated.

I did not understand the procedural aspects of all paper-based working wherein even today; the back-dated approval letters are being made (what happened to Digital India)? But, why the approval in the first place? Why this government attitude of being a controller of the fate of these children?

I am not raising any doubt about the working of Shishu Vihar Hyderabad, as I have not seen anything. Though, I suspect if anybody is allowed to see anything here.

It reminded us of Anganwadi, wherein we developed cold feet after seeing the real conditions.

The girls came back from Shishu Vihar Hyderabad without meeting any children of their age. Going by what we saw, they will not be able to meet any children in future either, from this place.

10 best toys for 4-year olds

The twins have turned 4-years old. They do not go to a formal environment of pre-school / day-care yet. They continue to be in their comfort environment of home and do what a 4-year old should be doing – play, play and play. Accordingly, we require lots of toys and props to keep them occupied throughout the day. So, what would these toys be?

I felt that I should make a list of 10 best toys for 4-years old, without breaking the bank, basis our experience. So, here goes. (O +ve and B +ve see smart-phones in the house but they are not fond of it as such. They have not been introduced to any apps on a digital screen for the purpose of either fun or learning).

Mud / Sand

O +ve and B +ve love splashing in the mud. Since they were young and learning to crawl, mud/sand has been their best friend. Be it in terms of developing gross motor skills or fine motor skills for a child or just throwing around, nothing beats the feel of mud/sand.

New houses keep getting constructed in the colony of their maternal grandparents and each visit to their house brings forth an occasion to have fun with mud/sand. One of the favourite destinations for Dirty Feet, their mother’s enterprise, is Potter’s Galli and all the potters in the village now know the liking of the girls for the mud.

It is a pity that the opportunity for the girls to revel in mud/sand come few and far in between nearer to our house. Their mother did propose to our apartment secretary to make a mud-pit on the terrace. However, the idea was shot down.

Water

At times, handling twins turn out to be a handful. The kids are in an irritable mode and are throwing tantrums around. Or just that you want the children to be on their own for some time.

Enter the tubs when the children knew only to sit. Enter the buckets when the children know how to stand.

Leave them alone with a bucket half-full of water and even after hours together, they will have to be dragged out of the water. If they are backed up by paper boats, food colours, flower petals, toy animals; nothing better than that.

Packaging material

In the ear of Amazon and Flipkart, a lot of packaging material come into the house. The bubble wraps, brown paper bags, carton boxes, plastic sheets, thermocol sheets – all have a role to play.

The girls love jumping on the bubble wraps. Brown paper bags of Amazon Now plays a stellar role in playing feed the shark, feed the bunny, join the dots, draw the family, free-hand sketching – what-all and what-not. The carton-boxes basis their size becomes a cave, a slide, a see-saw, a boat etc. The plastic sheets are used to cut and make shapes and for drying the fryums they make. The thermocol sheets are used for shredding them apart, use as a sledge, as a bed for their toys.

The girls follow the principle that whatever enters the house can be used. We are actually quite popular in the apartment for people to hand over their packaging material to us otherwise thrown out as trash.

Doh

O +ve and B +ve love playing with flour in any form. They are becoming adept at making roti as well, as they continue their doh fantasy into the kitchen. They like playing with play-doh just that it was turning out to be an expensive affair. So, their mother makes play-doh at home almost on a weekly basis with maida, food colours, salt and water. Not just through the moulds, you name anything and the girls will try to visualize it through their play-doh.

Nature-based collection

The girls have a fascination for collecting twigs, dried leaves, fallen leaves, seed-pods, insects, petals, stones – anything and everything that can be found in the park, on the road – anywhere. The easiest way to engage them is to hand them their nature bags and ask to go for a nature hunt. The only issue has been with the stray dogs that do not trust the two little girls going about their task diligently.

Books

The books are kept in book racks that the girls can easily reach up to. They do not have any dedicated time to have the books read to them, it is impromptu. Once read to them, they like repeating the stories to the most unsuspected listener that they can get themselves to hear to.

 Colours

Be it the regular crayons and colour pencils, or the water colours or the rangoli powder colours, or the gerua or the food colours, it is sure to transform any time of the day to a veritable riot of rainbow colours.

House-hold material

We encourage the girls to play with whatever they can lay their hands on – spoons, bowls, straws, screwdrivers, spanners, keys, locks etc. This also ensures that they think that the house is a big play-area and we are in a state of perpetual mess, never to find what we want at a given point of time. Just adds another dimension to our already crazy lives.

Blocks

The girls do have their collection of Lego blocks. It helps to have some kind of formal structures thrown into their other-wise unstructured growing up.

Open Spaces

This is the most important toy for our daughters. Nothing else to do but just run, hop, skip and jump.

A 4-year old has to be a 4-year old.  We believe that above are the 10 best toys for our 4-year old twin daughters.

What’s your say?

Introducing Hindu Mythology to Children

Why did Krishna and Balarama never come back to Vrindavan?

Why did Krishna never meet Yashoda, Nand Maharaj and his friends of Vrindavan again?

The demons knew that Krishna is God and they will be killed by him, yet why did they continue attacking him one after the other?

Why did Dasaratha have 3 wives?

If Hanuman can go and meet Sita in Lanka, why did not Sita come back with him?

Why did Rama shoot the arrow at Vali hiding behind a tree?

As we have started introducing Hindu mythology, starting with Ramayana and Krishna to O +ve and B +ve, we are being bombarded with the questions. The above is a sample list of questions asked by them.

Neither of us, my wife and me, remembers when we were introduced to the 2 epics. Now, for what seemed like the well-accepted story to us, almost everything is getting questioned and we have no sensible answers for satisfying the curiosity of 4-year olds.

I have tried checking the internet for answers and speaking to our respective parents. However, I am realizing that as grown-ups, we seem to readily accept what we have been told/are being told rather than raising innocuous questions that stem from the innocence of 4-year olds.

For us, the religious beliefs gets interwoven with the story and the mere thought of raising a question of why such an event occurred or why such an event did not occur seem sacrilegious. The 4-year olds are oblivious to the adult way of life. They just speak for themselves and not for the putting up of pretence.

We are realizing that the same story can get told; actually, need to be re-told at the various stages of growing up of a child. As children grow and mature, their perspective evolves and develops a better understanding of the world around them. Accordingly, the stories being told to them need to evolve accordingly. The story that can be told to a 4-year old can and need to be different to the story being told to a 14-year old. Just that, we have no mechanism to do this.

Similar to the age-appropriate versions of the same story, it is also a case of age-appropriate answers for the questions raised by the children. There cannot be one standardized answer, though the question can remain the same. Just that, we do not seem to know any answers for any of the age-groups.

What would be the end-product of narrating a story to a child? I suppose it has to be the child asking for more. It has to be the case of the child coming up with a narrative and explanation of his/her own. The story-telling has to ignite the curiosity of the child, raise his/her inquisitiveness, and make the child live the story in his /her own personal manner. Just that, we do not know how to plot a storyline for the already well-itched out epic in our minds?

As adults, for reasons explained by the society, we accept simple and superficial answers. It makes our life simple and also of the people around us. In reality, the 2 epics have layers of complexity for each of the deeds – the whys and why not’s. Just that, when we ourselves are clueless, how are we supposed to make this age-appropriate and explain to 4-year olds?

We have realized the above limitations from our side and have decided to go slow in introducing our daughters to Hindu mythology. Rather we have decided that the issues of cousins killing each other, a brother-in-law disrobing his sister-in-law in front of her 5 husbands, a lady having 5 husbands – The Mahabharata can wait for some more time. Or for that matter, a father cutting down the head of his son with both of them not aware of each other’s existence.

After all, the girls are still not letting go of the fact that Krishna never ever came back to his cherished Vrindavan.

I am sure that each one of us would have faced this challenge. Currently, we are at our wit’s end and trying to find resources to better introduce Hindu mythology to children.

What’s your suggestion?

Schools continue to be far for girls in India

We visited my home-town Rajkot in Diwali. The girls get the luxury of the play area in the apartment, where my parents stay, and they make full use of it. During the time that we were in Rajkot, apart from O +ve and B +ve, they were only a couple of children in the play area meant for residents of 50 flats. I had a passing discussion with one of the children about his schooling, and I realized that the schools continue to be far for girls in India.

The child I spoke to studies in the 5th standard of DPS, Rajkot. As per the school’s website, Delhi Public School Rajkot founded in 2002, is one of the schools run under the aegis of Delhi Public School Society, recognized throughout the academic world for its progressive approach to education, path breaking educational practices and commitment to excellence.

I was speaking to the child about his school, classes, course and so on. I asked him about the number of girls in his class and he told me that the number of girls is limited in the school itself, and not just his class. He actually gave me his own version of the reason for this scenario. He told me that the school is far from the city, so the girls are less in the school. I asked him that he goes in the school bus, then how could it be far for the girls? He again repeated that the girls in the school are less as the school is far and what has it got to do with the school transport provided by the school itself? We moved on to other topic but his answer that the school is far for girls stayed with me.

Gender stereotypes built at an early age

I realized from the child’s answer that he has been already programmed. From someone, from somewhere, he has already learnt and accepted that the girls should not be going to the schools far from home. Availability of school transport does not make him budge from his position. The idea of equality of opportunities does not appeal to him. The notion that he, as a boy, is privileged is drilled into his mind.

Differential gender behaviour

My mother informed me a bit about the child and his family. His elder sister works as an interior designer in Dubai and did a course in France – everything all alone. Now, it does not occur to him that it is fine for his sister to venture out of the country but not all right for a girl to go to a school on the outskirts of the city. The double standard of the expected gender behaviour from the mother, sister, wife, daughter and others is getting added to the thought pattern.

The role of the school

The school, of course, would know that the number of boys outnumber the girls. What would have they done to reverse this trend/discrimination? Apart from perpetuating the situation by being a passive bystander, the organization does not do any justice to the vision and mission of its existence. This is a guess, though. I am sure that if the school is working towards this issue, the 5th grader would not have answered the way, he did.

The origin of gender stereotyping

I believe that this gender attitude gets inculcated in a child from the family, including the double standard. Yet, it is considered inappropriate to involve the family in this discussion. I am sure that if I would have gone to discuss this with the child’s father, I would have been asked to leave. It is something like we know that someone is corrupt, is taking dowry, is a bigot yet we continue the relationship with a pretension that everything is fine and we should not intrude in one’s personal space, even though it is detrimental to the society. They, after all, walk among us.

Conclusion

I know that India is progressing. The women are making the country proud in various spheres – they are heading corporates, winning medals, leading changes in the society. I also know that we continue to have one of the worst male:female ratio and a gender discrimination that starts from birth and continues for the entire life-cycle of the woman.

I understand that the readers of this article might feel that I am being needlessly pessimistic when the positive change is happening all-around and the girls are outshining the boys.

Speaking to the 5th grader of one of the elite schools of the country led me to believe that the wheels of change in India is going to grind way too slowly and schools continue to be far for girls in India.

Maybe, I am reading too much from one example.

What is your say?

Raising Children and Being Responsible Citizens

Our 4-years old twin daughters do not go to a formal environment – school / day-care / nursery. We have ample enough time to venture out as a part of their growing up. As the inquisitiveness and the curiosity of a child to know about her surroundings increases, wherever/whenever we go, the girls invariably keeps asking the below questions:

  • Why did the uncle spit on the road?
  • Why did the uncle not stop at the red light?
  • What is the uncle doing facing the wall?
  • Why is the uncle throwing the plastic bag on the road?
  • Why is the uncle driving at so high speed?
  • What is the smoke coming out of uncle’s mouth?

All of you also, I suppose, would have heard these questions and more from the innocent children. What has been your response?

I will tell you mine. Honestly, I do not have the courage to walk up to any of the men doing any of the above-mentioned activities and speak to them about what they did / they are doing. I just try to change the subject and try to divert my daughters’ attention elsewhere. The girls keep repeating these questions and till date, I have not been able to give any sort of sensible answers to them.

I had been thinking about these. I saw a connecting link to all these questions – It is always an UNCLE who is doing these activities that the children keep asking about. Why is it always an Uncle/Brother? It is never an Aunty/Sister who are seen doing such activities.

Why is it always a MAN, invariably a MAN?

I would be guilty of all such behaviours in my earlier avatar of being a non-parenting man. Now that, I am with my children, I want to set the best example for them. I would not indulge in any activity that I would find difficult to explain to my daughters.

In Indian society, women bear the primary responsibility of raising children. How much of un-civic activities in the society would get attributed to the women, as compared to the men? You, of course, know the answer. Why would that be?

We see that a man flouting the civic rules in public becomes a different person altogether, most of the times, when he is with his family. Just that, he does not seem to be spending much time with his family outside the 4 walls of his house.

Basis the above, I found a simplistic explanation of the man’s behaviour. The man who is busy doing the above-mentioned un-civic activities has not lent a helping hand to his wife/mother/sister in raising a child. I am not at all implying that to be a decent man, raising a child is a must. A man can turn out be a gentleman even without raising a child. Just that, a man doing un-civic activities is necessarily not contributing to raising a child in his family.

After all, no man would want to be seen doing wrongful activities in front of his own growing-up children. A man provides for his family, supposedly, hence no man would want to do activities that will lead to an unwanted conduct to his own self by his children.

The man gradually becomes more accommodative, more progressive, more tolerant, more persuasive – more of all the wanted qualities, once he starts staying at home for an extended period, on a continuous and not a one-off basis, with his children.

As a society, to improve ourselves, we have to encourage the active role of men in parenting. I am sure that this will have a cascading effect in us becoming a better civilization with men getting to understand what it goes into raising future citizens and making a better world for his children.

Thus, I present the case for being responsible citizens. The man has to learn how to be a man – raise a child.

How gender stereotypes get built in children by our daily statements

I have realized that there is a discussion going on about why the kitchen set gets gifted to the girls and the cricket set to the boys. Why Pink and Barbie are for the girls and Blue and Cars are for the boys? Why not the other way round or a different way altogether?

The objective of the discussion gets centred on keeping the child away from the gender stereotypes. A well-intentioned objective, I suppose. However, is the gender stereotypes limited to such obvious examples only?

I have heard the below statements quite a number of times in my own house-hold spoken by me / my wife:

I / Papa have / has come tired from office. Please do not bother me / him.

I / Papa have / has got a surprise gift for you. Say thank you to Papa.

I / Papa have / has a holiday today. Let me / him take some rest.

I / Papa am / is doing office work at home. Please do not disturb me / him.

I / Papa am / is taking an office call at home. Please do not disturb me / him.

I / Papa am / is working hard for your future. Remember this.

I / Papa will not eat your left-overs. Please give it to me.

I / Papa will play with you once you are fed and bathed.

I / Papa will decide what / where to shop and how much to spend.

I / Papa will not clean your poop. Please come over to me.

I suppose the above statements were regular fodder to the girls till the time I was working, one and a half-year back. Some of these statements were overtly said, some were understood by our twin daughters, even if not said explicitly. Once I left my job to become a full-time stay-at-home father to our twin daughters and my wife joined her organization www.facebook.com/Travelwithdirtyfeet, it was also an end to the above statements.

The girls, no longer, hear the above statements from their mother / me. I do not use any of the above statements for my wife even though I am fully aware that she slogs it out for the whole day running an experiential travel firm. I know that she used all the above statements for me even though I would have spent the whole day sitting on a chair, whiling away my time in meetings and breaks.

Even though my wife works and I do not any more, I cannot get myself to make above statements for her. Which, a mother is expected to keep making for her child’s father. To make matters worse, as a working mother (my wife), she cannot make any of the above statements herself, it does not occur to her. Rather, she keeps feeling guilty for leaving her children, which was an alien feeling to me, when I was working myself.

If I would have been still working, the girls would have continued hearing the above-mentioned statements. Their initiation in the Indian gender stereotypes between a man and a woman would have been over, by now.

What has got a kitchen set and cricket set / Blue and Pink / Barbie and Cars got to do with introducing gender stereotypes to the children?

I feel we do it all the time with each and every conversation, about our own perceived roles and responsibilities as parents. We need to get over our own gender stereotypes to start with, easier said than done.

What’s your say?